At the beginning and end of every yoga class as well as multiple times throughout we are asked to bring our hands together in Namaste. For those non- yogi’s, the “Namaste” gesture, or mudra, is placing your hands in prayer position with your thumbs resting on your sternum next to your heart /at your heart chakra. Namaste is a gesture of greeting or honoring that roughly means “I bow to you”.
Ram Das translated Namaste to mean: “I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One.” (Wikipedia).
Aadil Palkhivala, founder of Purna Yoga and the yoga studio I attend, says this about Namaste: “The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra.”
The simplest translation is what really gets me: “I greet the Divine within.”
I have struggled regularly and deeply with this concept of honoring the Divine in me – especially over the past year. As if the action of honoring myself as important weren’t hard enough, I also am being asked to recognize myself as part of the perfect wholeness of the Divine. This is a difficult concept to embody for anyone – stupid mistakes, wrong turns, and tragic events make it hard to see ourselves as intimately connected to the Divine, much less to understand that we are all the embodiment of the sacred. A year after being told I had cancer, I certainly did not feel do not feel whole or divine. So, warrior that I am, I engaged in earnest in the learning to honor the Light within and view myself, and my journey as the embodiment of Spirit.
Restarting a lifelong passion of yoga 6 months after finishing a mastectomy and cancer treatment, I had deeply emotional body image issues that followed me to the mat. The first part of every class starts the same: we sit quietly with our hands in Namaste. This should have been the first opportunity I had to connect with the sacred and really melt into a little bit of precious “me time”. However, when my hands were in Namaste, I was acutely aware of one “real” boob and one “fake” boob and immediately became absorbed in thinking about my chest. I noticed the lack of energetic symmetry, mourned the loss of having two soft breasts, cringed in pain from the nerve damage from surgery, and worried that my prosthesis was going to fall out of the inadequate shelf bra of my yoga top. How was I supposed to honor the divine when I was angry, hurting, exhausted and frustrated by the changes cancer wrought on me? How do any of us come to terms with the perfection that we are in THIS moment – perfection that is not separate from God regardless of our flaws or issues?
The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit root “yuj”, meaning to unite. Yoga it is at its heart a discipline that involves uniting physical, spiritual and mental elements – something that is largely ignored by today’s pop culture versions. In the tradition that I follow, emphasis is placed on filling oneself with the Light of the Divine in order to expand not only our view of who we are, but to move in the world from a place of compassion and love. While moving through the various yoga positions we are asked to breathe in the light of the Divine and fill our bodies with it. And at least once in each class we do a meditation designed to bring us to a deeper connection with our own sacredness. Starting with our hands in Namaste, we imagine a flame of Light, (or love or Divine) in our heart. We slowly raise our Namaste to our throats with the intention that the words we speak be fill with Light and love. Next we move to our eyes, that we may see ourselves and others surrounded in Light and Love. Then on to our foreheads to facilitate thoughts filled with Light and Love. And finally up to the crown of our heads and cascading down around our body, so that we are sealed in a cocoon of Light and Love.
If having my hands in Namaste was challenging to me, this concept of filling myself with the love of God/dess was nearly impossible. While I understood that the idea was that I learn absorb to the unending love and compassion of Spirit already residing in my heart, I had a hard time actually believing that this was available to me. My relationship with Spirit was never one of being bathed in gentle golden light, but rather of lightning strikes and tumultuous change! So I changed it up a bit. I knew that I lacked compassion for myself regarding the challenges I have faced so I began with imagining compassion in my heart for myself and for others, compassion in my words, compassion in my thinking and compassion in my actions. I varied that day to day with forgiveness, of my body, in the words I used, in the thoughts I had and in my treatment of myself and others. Some days the best I could do was acceptance. And eventually I began to see the flame that John, my yoga teacher, spoke of burning in my heart – a tiny little golden flame of Love and Light – a Divine spark all of my own. And, what filled me with wonder was the realization that this spark did not exist in spite of the challenges and hardship I had faced and the anger and grief I was still working through, but because of them.
As I work on the cocoon meditation, it brings me closer to being able embody the concept of Namaste and grow within myself the spark of perfection, love and compassion that is me as well as a part of God/Spirit/the Divine/the Universe. Sometimes as I sit on my mat and “assume the position” I do so with a huge sigh of relief as I remember that connection. Sometimes the sigh is one of resignation that I am there, making the attempt again. Often, tears well under my closed eyes as I breathe in the idea that I am a perfect part of a large whole. As I sit and nestle my hands into position against my lopsided chest, I learn to forgive myself for having had cancer, for having had angry and resentful thoughts about by body’s looks and abilities now, and for not being perfect somehow. I learn to treat myself with the respect, love and compassion that I would show to another beloved person. I am learning to love the body that I still have, in all its’ imperfections. I breathe in deep gratitude for the fact that I am still here to sit in my yoga class and struggle with learning to greet the Divine within. As I learn to live Namaste in my daily life as well as when I am practicing yoga I begin to see that the Spirit does indeed reside within me. I see the flicker of the flame of the Divine that resides in you. And when you and I are in that place in which the Great Mystery resides within us we are One. In that Oneness we are whole. NAMASTE.